People looking for love online are being urged to do a search of phrases in the messages they receive to help them spot sweet-talking conmen.
A new UK campaign, starting on Sunday, aims to raise awareness about the growing problem of online dating fraud.
The campaign, Date Safe, suggests criminals are using love letter templates and an online search could flag up some of the stock phrases.
Police say the average dating scam victim is aged 49 and loses £10,000.
The new report, published by the City of London Police and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, also reveals that on average, money is transferred within 30 days of initial contact with the perpetrator.
In a dating scam, criminals pose as potential matches and contact people seeking romance on dating platforms – then, after a period of correspondence and sometimes also phone contact, they start asking for money using various excuses.
The police report, which analysed data from the Action Fraud helpline, estimated that in the UK a victim files a report about dating scams every three hours.
Of those who stated their gender, 61% of the victims were female and 66% of the suspects were male, it said.
While most activity occurred on dating websites, the majority of the 15% that did not was carried out via Facebook, the report claimed.
It also said that 213 people admitted they had been a victim of a dating scam more than once.
David: “She knew so much”
David from Norfolk, who is in his 50s, was a victim of dating fraud five years ago. He was contacted by somebody who assumed the online identity of an old friend.
He handed over his life savings, a total of £15,000, over the course of the scam.
It took him three years to get his finances reorganised and he is still concerned about his credit rating.
“It was so strange that she knew so much,” he says of his scammer, who even mentioned meeting him in London when he had met his real friend there years previously.
“It wasn’t until the evening she was supposed to be flying over to me that I was suspicious.
“To start with I just felt like getting in my car and driving off a cliff. I didn’t go out, I didn’t trust people on the phone, on my laptop, I cut everybody off.”
David had help from independent charity Victim Support which he says saved his life.
He no longer uses dating sites and has taken up ballroom dancing instead.
“Now, I think I was an idiot but if she had been the real person and she had come to me we could have been a happy family by now,” he said.
“She said she missed me, that she’d never married… it was like a schoolboy dream.”
“The growth in online dating has led to a rise in organised criminals targeting people looking for love,” said Commander Chris Greany, of the City of London Police and National Co-ordinator for Economic Crime.
“These crimes destroy lives and the emotional damage often far outweighs the financial loss.
“Never give money to people you meet online, no matter what emotional sob story the person uses.”
People are also advised to talk to friends and family about those they are in touch with online.
Dating scam ‘packs’
Criminals can purchase scam “packs” containing love letter templates, photos, videos and false identities for as little as a few dollars on the dark web, said Prof Alan Woodward, cybersecurity expert at Surrey University.
“So many people fall for these scams that the price of the packs has dropped as it has become a high volume sale,” he said.
“Social engineering is a very active black market.
“As dating scams are becoming more widely known, there is evidence that a follow-up scam has been developed where ‘detectives’ or ‘investigators’ offer to try to recover any money you may have been duped out of… for a fee,” he added.
“Needless to say it is throwing good money after bad.”
The Date Safe campaign is a partnership between Get Safe Online, Victim Support, AgeUK, City of London Police, the Metropolitan Police and the Online Dating Association.
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